"We looked slow to the ball. We just aren't defending well at all."
- Middle Tennessee head coach Kermit Davis
Middle Tennessee suffered its first home conference loss of the season Saturday as North Texas ran away from the Blue Raiders in a convincing first half performance before holding off several small second half rallies.
The Mean Green claimed an 89-78 win in a game that was never in doubt.
North Texas stormed out to a 9-2 lead and led by at least 11 points from the 8:13 mark of the first half until the end of the game.
Mean Green guards Josh White and Adam McCoy terrorized MT's defense with a combined 50 points on 17-of-25 shooting, including eight 3-pointers.
The Blue Raiders staged a furious effort in the second half and at times looked on the verge of perhaps cutting the lead to single digits, but North Texas turned back every potential threat.
MT rallied back from its early 9-2 deficit and appeared to have the game back into a competitive flow when Desmond Yates scored to cut the lead to 11-9 less than six minutes into the first half. But three of the Mean Green's next four field goals were 3-pointers as North Texas opened up a 22-13 lead after an 11-4 run over an a span of 4:30. MT never trailed by less than eight the rest of the first half, and never trailed by single digits for the game's final 32 minutes.
G Demario WilliamsClick Here to view this Link.-Williams started the game in place of Nigel Johnson and was one of the key energy providers in the second half as the Raiders tried to make a stirring comeback. He finished with eight points.
Honorable Mention: Lindal Yarbrough-Yarbrough played eight second half minutes and tallied two points, one assist, and one steal.
Season Star Count
GREEN SITS SECOND HALF
MT head coach Kermit Davis decided at halftime he would not play senior guard Demetrius Green in the second half, and instead proceeded to play walk-ons Yarbrough, K.C. Anuna, and ]John Hopson for some extended minutes.
Senior guard Nigel Johnson also had his second half minutes cut, but Green never left the bench.
Green played 17 first half minutes and scored just three points of 3-of-6 free throw shooting, while pulling down just two rebounds. It was his final play of the half that seemed to seal his second half fate, when he missed a basic defensive assignment that led to an easy layup for Josh White.
"(North Texas) called timeout and it was a simple ball screen on the perimeter that we have switched for the last six years and we've switched it during the years (Green) has been here and he just didn't switch," Davis said. "They layed it in and then we drove it down and he was soft on the other end so if we can't get something simple like that in the game plan in the last 10 seconds of the half then we've got to try somebody else."
Green will certainly have opportunities to become the factor that he was expected to be in preseason and that he was earlier this season. Davis knows Green's talent level better than anyone and he's looking forward to seeing how the senior responds in practice this week.
"We'll see (how he responds) on Monday morning at 5 a.m. I'd love to go tomorrow but I can't because NCAA rules require you to take a day off," Davis said. "We'll go twice Monday ... I'm not worried about tired legs. It's all about March 4th and the start of the tournament and we've got to figure something out. It's really disappointing that's where we're at with three senior guards but that's where we are."
There has been a pretty clear common thread in MT's six conference losses, and that has come on the defensive end.
In those six losses, opponents have hit 51.3 percent from the floor against the Blue Raiders and nearly 44 percent from 3-point range.
Grinding, tough half-court defense is normally a staple for the Blue Raider program, particularly at this point in the season but MT has struggled in recent games.
Problems are compounded when Yates gets in foul trouble, like he did against North Texas on Saturday.
When he exits the floor, the Raiders are left with hardly any presence around the basket since Theryn Hudson is sitting out the remainder of the season to preserve a medical redshirt.
MT will have to find a resolution to its defensive inconsistencies if it hopes to be a significant factor in the fast approaching Sun Belt tournament.
MT's veteran laden team has always had good chemistry together, but even the tightest bonds can be stretched when the road gets rocky.
While many teams would resort to finger pointing and playing the blame game, don't expect that from this particular team, which is determined to remain unified as the Raiders collectively search for answers to stop the current skid.
"Everybody in that locker room, we are still a team," Desmond Yates said. "There will not be any division in our locker room. We've just to pull together even more than we've been doing, pull together and try to end this the right way."
While Davis agrees that the chemistry and makeup of his team has always been good, he also is searching for a leader or two to separate from the pack and assert control for the stretch run.
"Our leadership right now maybe at this point of the year is as poor as we've ever had in the seven years that I've been here," Davis said. "It's not (that we have) bad people, but it's that somebody can't take hold of this team, whether it is Boogie or Kevin or Nigel or Duna, whoever it may be. I'm responsibile for the leadership on the team. We've got to get it right and get it better and I'll be shocked if we don't over the next two weeks."
Feb. 19: South Alabama at Middle Tennessee, 7 p.m.